The first Iron Man is arguably the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's not the "best movie" (that'd probably be the first Avengers and/or The Winter Soldier) but the one with the biggest heart.
(No pun intended there, but nice to have one.)
Now, Captain Marvel is an MCU origin story with a heart – on the level of Iron Man. And thus it's one of my favorite MCU movies to date.
It's also an important movie, but its importance comes from within. Where Wonder Woman is important in a self-conscious way, Captain Marvel is important innately, innocently, and – as I'll argue below – more effectively.
SPOILERS AHEAD! Here, have a picture of a
catflerken before we get to them.
Alright, let's do this.
Captain Marvel: the character
I don't know much about Captain Marvel from the comics. Some thread or reference here or there, and my largest exposure to Carol Danvers was through Civil War II. (Which is a less-than-desirable exposure, given that she was on the wrong side of that story. And no, not because she went again Tony Stark, but because Tony was right. (Incidentally, that's also why Civil War II fell short compared to Civil War: where the latter had a conflict that had two equally valid arguments – outside context non-withstanding – the former creates a conflict while clearly stating that Carol is wrong and Tony is proven right. Plus there's the whole "Captain America is Hydra" business, but that's another story.))
Point being, I came to the movie fresh. I didn't know what to expect Carol Danvers to be. Didn't have a preconceived notion of what her story ought to be.
Which is always a good position to be in when it comes to movies. I like to think I can put aside such knowledge (I did for Iron Man, and Spider-Man, and it worked out pretty well) but still.
Which leaves us with the movie itself.
Captain Marvel: the movie
Is Captain Marvel a perfect movie? No it isn't. Is it a good movie? It's not 'good' the way The Winter Soldier was good, or the way Logan was incredible. But it is good in the sense of being entertaining as hell.
Brie Larson brings Carol to life perfectly. She's funny, witty, and exuberates joy throughout. (Especially during the sequence from which the above image is taken. Like a child discovering the freedom and jumping into it with joy and without care. I found myself grinning like an idiot, it was so infectious.)
Samuel L. Jackson brings a very different Nick Fury than we know from the MCU. He's young (not just because of the de-aging thing, which is weird for a grand total of five minutes, and then you buy it and eat it up.) and somewhat naive and all the things we all remember being back in the day.
(And de-aged Clark Gregg is a bae. Said it once, said it many times. Man's got charisma damnit.)
The rest of the cast brings what you can expect, with special mention to Ben Mendelsohn's Talos/Keller. I loved him in Rogue One, and here he brings both characters to life with distinction but still connected.
The plot is a bit uneven. The first part is an infodump/Kree-lore crash course packaged as a blockbuster movie spectacle. Which kinda works and kinda doesn't. I recognize it's necessary, still not sure if I had done it the same way. Then again, nobody gives me multimillion dollar movies to make, so...
That said, once the movie settles on Earth, and 90s Earth at that, it finds its footing and its heart.
Sidenote: As a 90s kid who in an increasing amount struggles with explaining "old things" to young people as he gets older, I'm not sure how much of the audience will understand just how brilliant the movie is in this respect. A lot of jokes are funny either way, sure, but that layer of understanding really adds to the enjoyment. If you were born in the 80s, you'll love it though.
As I said, I didn't know what to expect from Captain Marvel, but I didn't expect this. Instead of galactic-scale spectacle we got a huge heart that looks inwards. Captain Marvel is a coming-of-age story in the best possible way, a singular story of a singular character unburdened with universe-building.
Captain Marvel does suffer from many of the weaknesses of Marvel movies (the editing of the fight sequences comes to mind) but gets away with it most of the time because of its heart.
And that is what makes it special.
Captain Marvel: the phenomenon
Captain Marvel is... uhm... better than Wonder Woman. There I said it.
Wonder Woman was great, don't get me wrong. But as a guy (can't help it, I am) Captain Marvel resonated with me on a level that I think is much more powerful for all genders, but girls especially.
Where Wonder Woman was a story of a woman of extraordinary strength proving herself to the world of men, Captain Marvel is a story of a woman of extraordinary strenght who doesn't need to prove herself to anyone.
That is the key difference, not only between movies but between perspectives.
I'm always scared to death about being accused of mansplaining, so here's my contribution, as a guy, to women: it works a lot more effectively if you're being inclusive with empowerment. My argument is that the concept of 'strong women' can only succeed if men aren't challenging it. And in my opinion you can't get there through separation.
Carol Danvers is strong and her strength isn't questioned throughout the movie. The only character who questions her strength is Yon-Rogg. He is the only one surprised at her strength. And Carol makes a quick work out of him by refusing to play by his rules.
Captain Marvel as an empowering movie works because it's balanced. I don't know how much of that comes from the duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck working together, bringing a perspective that is neither a woman's nor a man's, but a blend of both.
There were some sequences (I'm talking about the "get up" flashbacks in particular) that worked wonderfully in the trailer but felt over-explaining in the movie. Take out those, and Maria's line about "women wasn't allowed to fly combat missions and this was our chance to do good", and the movie still works.
If I ever had a daughter, and I hope I will, I'd want her to look up to Carol Danvers. And she would because the movie made me feel empowered, and I'm a 36-years-old guy.
Strength is a universal value. Strong women is something we ought to see more and more, but depicting strong women is useless if men are challenging their strength.
I loved Captain Marvel because it used its platform to depict a strong woman whose strength is treated as a natural fact. The same way the women of Firefly were strong and treated as strong without question.
That message, the one that I'd want to teach my daughter; the one that says "You don't have to prove your strength to anyone", I think will do more to the cause than anything else.